I normally like David Nicholls. Sweet Sorrow was good, but not as good as One Day (though I can’t find my review, so maybe I really only remember it with fondness). Apparently, I didn’t like Us either, so maybe I don’t actually like David Nicholls. Anyway, Sweet Sorrow was OK, but not great. “Now: On the verge of marriage and a fresh start, thirty-eight year old Charlie Lewis finds that he can’t stop thinking about the past, and the events of one particular summer. Then: Sixteen-year-old Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don’t remember in the school photograph. He’s failing his classes. At home he looks after his depressed father—when surely it should be the other way round—and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. But when Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope. In order to spend time with Fran, Charlie must take on a challenge that could lose him the respect of his friends and require him to become a different person. He must join the Company. And if the Company sounds like a cult, the truth is even more appalling: The price of hope, it seems, is Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet learned and performed in a theater troupe over the course of a summer. Now: Charlie can’t go the altar without coming to terms with his relationship with Fran, his friends, and his former self. Poignant, funny, enchanting, devastating, Sweet Sorrow is a tragicomedy about the rocky path to adulthood and the confusion of family life, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, searing explosion of first love that can only be looked at directly after it has burned out.” (Amazon). I’d skip this one, unless you ADORE Nicholls.
Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa was a good read, but not amazing, as I had been led to believe from all the positive reviews it has received. “As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation.” (Amazon) It’s certainly worth a read, but not a year’s best.
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh is not my usual type of read. I learned of it through a blog about surprise older books you might not have chosen and the premise sounded interesting, so I added it to my library list and it was available immediately. “It’s the murder trial of the century―and Joshua Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house. He has done everything in his power to make sure the wrong man goes down for the crime. Because this time, the killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury. But there’s someone on his tail. Defense lawyer and former conman Eddie Flynn doesn’t believe that his movie-star client killed two people. He suspects that the real killer is closer than they think―but who would guess just how close?” (Amazon) This was a REALLY good read, which surprised me. If you like crime novels, grab this one from your library!
The Golden Cage by Camilla Lackberg is a quick, entertaining read. There’s certainly nothing deep here, but it was an enjoyable romp, perfect for quick, distracting vacation reading. “Faye has loved Jack since they were students at business school. Jack, the perpetual golden boy, grew up wealthy, unlike Faye, who has worked hard to bury a dark past. When Jack needs help launching a new company, Faye leaves school to support him, waitressing by day and working as his strategist by night. With the business soaring, Faye and Jack have a baby, and Faye finds herself at home, caring for their daughter, wealthier than she ever imagined, but more and more removed from the excitement of the business world. And none of the perks of wealth make up for the fact that Jack has begun to treat her coldly, undermining her intelligence and forgetting all she sacrificed for his success. When Faye discovers that he’s having an affair, the polished façade of their life cracks wide open. Faye is alone, emotionally shattered, and financially devastated–but hell hath no fury like a woman with a violent past bent on vengeance. Jack is about to get exactly what he deserves–and so much more. In this splashy, electrifying story of sex, betrayal, and secrets, a woman’s revenge is a brutal but beautiful thing.” I got this one on Kindle from the library quickly, so it’s worth a try if it sounds good to you.
There’s been a lot of positive press around Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. And, it won the Booker Prize. It’s the story of a broken family in Glasgow and how the children, particularly the youngest, cope with their mother’s alcoholism. At the same time, Shuggie struggles with his own sexuality. It was a wonderful book, so so sad, yet such a good story. I wondered from the acknowledgments if it was autobiographical. It seems that it is. I plan to spend some more time reading about Douglas Stuart. My only complaint (and the reason I didn’t give it 5-stars) was again, as with the last one I read, the length. It was unnecessarily long, though again, the back third was gripping enough to keep it going. Be prepared, though, it’s just startlingly sad. Knowing the author’s outcome gives it more hope, but…
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook was an interesting story and good read, but WAY too long. There was lots of praise for this book and it was short-listed for the Booker Prize. Amazon writes: “Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the overdeveloped metropolis that most of the population now calls home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die. There is only one alternative: the Wilderness State, the last swath of untouched, protected land, where people have always been forbidden. Until now. Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State, guinea pigs in an experiment to see if humans can exist in nature without destroying it. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they slowly and painfully learn to survive in an unpredictable, dangerous land, bickering and battling for power and control as they betray and save one another. But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of this new existence, Bea realizes that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way. The farther they get from civilization, the more their bond is tested in astonishing and heartbreaking ways.” I enjoyed it and the last third was better than the second third. Still, it wasn’t a favorite from this year.
I really like Katherine Center’s books. They are light and entertaining and fluffy, but well-written and the stories are always creative. What You Wish For was no exception, with the added bonus that it centers around a private school. Amazon reports: “Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living. But she wasn’t always that way. Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.
But he wasn’t always that way. And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it. As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.” Other books by Center that I have enjoyed are How to Walk Away and Things You Save in a Fire. While I usually read on the Kindle, her covers are appealing too. I guess I will need to put Happiness for Beginners and Everyone is Beautiful to my list. I really enjoyed this read – a great diversion from the world in which we live.
I am ashamed to admit that I enjoyed the romance Goodbye, Orchid by Carol Van Den Hende. I’m not sure how it made it on my list, but it was a quick, two-hour, annoying, and completely predictable read. Amazon: “One July morning in Manhattan, handsome athlete and entrepreneur Phoenix Walker accompanies his love, half-Asian beauty Orchid, to the airport. Neither believes today is goodbye. But after she leaves, disaster strikes. Phoenix wakes in the hospital, broken, forever changed. He longs for Orchid but remembers the tragedy in her past that makes her panic over images of trauma. Now, he’s faced with the hardest decision of his life. Does he burden the woman whose traumatic childhood makes him feel protective of her? Or does true love mean leaving her without explaining why?” So, if you are looking for an escapist or beachy read and are willing to overlook incredible cliche, pick this one up.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi was a good story but it was WAY too long. Amazon summarizes: “Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love.” I didn’t love her first book, Homegoing either, as it turns out, so perhaps she’s not for me.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was one of the worst books I have read in a long time. I should have abandoned it long before I did, but I needed to find out the ending. Do yourself a favor and skip this one unless you like horror novels. I don’t. I will not even waste another moment writing about this one. SUCH a disappointment